West Hollywood bicycle advocates have sounded the alarm on the redesign of La Brea Avenue, which they say may not leave room for future bike lanes.
The project’s civil engineer, however, says “not so fast.”
The current plan for the redesign, which includes new street trees, pedestrian lighting, landscaping and, most controversially, medians, is meant to bring the look and feel of Santa Monica Boulevard to WeHo’s stretch of La Brea between Romaine Street and Fountain Avenue.
While the plan does not include bike lanes, it is supposed to accommodate their construction in the future.
“The city might be about to make a very dangerous mistake with the redesign of La Brea Avenue,” said Matt Baume, a member of the WeHo Bicycle Coalition. “It looks like (bike lanes) may no longer be the plan: earlier this month, they released a report that indicates they’re opting instead to build a wide median.”
The report that Baume cites is the “initial study and negative declaration,” which is an analysis of the project’s potential environmental effects, and includes the latest plans. They do call for landscaped medians. The report was authored a month ago by city civil engineer Donn Uyeno, who has since received 57 written comments, almost all of them expressing concern from the bike community.
In the initial study, Uyeno writes “The project looked into incorporating dedicated bike lanes into the project, however the public right of way and the geometry of the street did not allow for it.”
Uyeno has since said he will amend that portion of the study, believing bike lanes can and should be incorporated at a future date, and after consideration of the feedback he has received from bike advocates — but medians still remain part of the project.
Many advocates worry the medians will not leave room for bike lanes unless street parking is later removed. That’s unlikely in an area starved for parking, they say.
Baume says the solution is easy: eliminate the medians.
“Rather than creating a choice between bike lanes and parking, the city could simply make room for both by eliminating the giant median they have planned. Why won’t they? Well, that’s anyone’s guess,” he said.
Uyeno said the project is being funded by a grant from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and that medians were a part of the grant application.
Also, the point of the streetscape is to match the look on La Brea with the one already on Santa Monica Boulevard, which includes island medians, he said.
“Their width is pretty narrow,” Uyeno said. “They are not humungous giant medians, even the landscaping is similar to what’s on Santa Monica Boulevard. Even if you took out all the medians, the bike lane that would go on La Brea would look the same,” he said.
In 1999, the city adopted the “Santa Monica Boulevard Master Plan,” which intended to create a “main street” that would “connect and unify West Hollywood from its eastern boundary at La Brea Avenue to its western boundary at Doheny Drive, with distinctive gateways at both ends.”
In 2001, initial construction of this “main street” was completed on SMB, including widened sidewalks, street trees in parkways, pedestrian street lights and landscaped medians.
In 2010, the city laid out its plan for the “eastern gateway.”
While Uyeno remains optimistic bike lanes will be included in future plans, he does admit “removing some of the parking would probably be the best way to get a nice (bike lane) project.”
“Residents and businesses will be highly resistant to the removal of parking,” Baume said.
“It’s not unheard of for the city to remove parking spaces,” Uyeno countered.
Furthermore, the City of Los Angeles has plans to build bike lanes along its portion of La Brea, which bookends WeHo’s section of the street to the north and south. WeHo bike advocates insist the city should match that plan and that it’d be unsafe to do anything else, such as previously proposed stenciled “sharrows.”
The bicycle coalition cites a number of city documents that state the city is committed to connecting bike lanes with its neighbors.
For example, a portion of the 2011 City of West Hollywood Climate Action Plan reads, “the City will coordinate with the City of Los Angeles and City of Beverly Hills to connect West Hollywood bike routes to existing and planned routes in these cities.”
The 2011 West Hollywood General Plan says the city will “identify areas where better bicycle route connections can be implemented and increase bicycle parking can be provided.”
And finally, in its Nov. 2011 report to city staff making recommendations regarding the La Brea Streetscape, the West Hollywood Bicycle Task Force called for a class 2 bike lane — class 2 is federal jargon meaning a lane set aside in city streets exclusively for bikes.
“We can still do our landscaping portion and copy what the City of LA is doing in the future,” said Uyeno. “In my head, that’s pretty much what’s going to happen.”
The City Council will likely take up the issue at its March 18 meeting, according to Uyeno.
“I’m a bike rider,” he said. “I see their side of the story.”